There are so many schools of thought in Hinduism.In fact,what is today known as Hinduism is a culmination of innumerable faith systems.The name Hinduism came into use only after the advent of the British in order to differentiate between the native religions and those introduced by foreigners.The Greeks called the Oriental people "Indoos" as they lived on the banks of the Indus(Sindhu, for Indians).The Persians called the Orients as Hindus,which is a modification of Indoos.Even today,the official name of our country is "The Republic of India".We have become slaves of the West so much so that we stick to the name which they used for their own reference.Can you ever imagine an Englishman referring to his mother tongue as "angreezi?"
Anyway,this is not the aim of this post.I wrote this just to drive home the point that there are different schools of thought in Hinduism.Atma Vidya is by far the most subtle school of thought in Hinduism.
It mainly deals with realizing the difference between the soul (आत्मा) and the body.Everyone is under the impression that the body belongs to them and the actions,sufferings,pleasures experienced by the body are their own.The upanishads are unanimous in identifying the difference between the body and the atma.The body is subject to changes while the soul is permanent and immune to changes.The body can be destroyed,unlike the soul.
All the commentators on the Upanishads agree upto this point.But there is great difference in opinion among the commentators regarding the interpretation of the upanishads.In this post,i would like to restrict myself to the advaitic interpretation of Adi Shankara.
As far as Adi Shankara is concerned,the soul is synonymous with paramatma(God).The difference between the jivatma(man) and paramatma(God) exists only as long as jivatma is under the influence of maya(ignorance).When jivatma overcomes maya, atma shines in all its glory.Its more about realizing the true nature of the self rather than attaining something far away.In more simple terms,self realization.
The aim of the upanishads is to teach mankind the way to become one with paramatma.The atma is the witness of all actions of the jiva,both the ignorant,body-loving one and the jivan mukta who has realized his true identity.A simple allegory is used by advaitic commentators,which is worth mentioning here.
A poor man sleeps in his cottage,without knowing that there is a treasure lying deep underground.As long as he is unaware of this fact,he remains poor.Once he digs up the ground,the treasure reveals itself and he becomes rich.Can anyone say that the treasure was not there prior to its discovery?It was just that the poor man was unaware of its existence.The same thing is the case with the atma.The atma exists in you,me,our parents,teachers,enemies,friends,criminals and sages.While sages have realized the atma and are in a position to identify themselves with the atma(understanding the need to sideline the body),we haven't.Atma vidya is all about teaching man his true nature.
The mundaka upanishad talks about that thing which is both very near and very far away.Western scholars have laughed at this and say this is impossible.In my point of view,they don't understand relativity.The upanishad is completely right.This is because for the yogi who has realized the true nature of the self,"it" is very,very near.For all others,"it" is far,far away.The yogi and the fool may sleep int he same house.Even then,"it" remains near to the yogi and far away to the fool.That is why such a statement is seen in the mundaka upanishad.
As long as there is no self realization,the soul enters a different body and jivatma appears again and again,in varying forms.As long as there is ignorance,there is no hope for salvation.Once realization occurs,salvation is immediate,and all our sins are washed away.
You might ask-how?
This might seem to suggest that one's actions do not matter at all and it is only knowledge that determines everything.This might seem absurd,but wait....
Isn't a single match stick enough to burn an entire hay stack.Is it necessary to burn the stack,one straw at a time?No!The same thing is true with a nyana yogi.How can there be darkness when light has emerged?Light and darkness cannot co exist.by lighting the flame of knowledge,the nyana yogi dispels the darkness engulfing him.
The role of the guru is crucial for anyone aspiring salvation through nyana yoga as it is the teacher who can make us realize our true nature.Adi Shankara stresses on this point again and again in vivekashudamani.
The existence of the human soul has SCIENTIFICALLY been proved beyond doubt as anyone who has read Dan Brown's "Lost Symbol" will know.
More on this in my next post....
P.S:The views expressed in this post are NOT personal.All this is knowledge that has been transmitted through countless generations.Also note that this post deals only with the advaitic school of thought.The atma,jivan,mukti etc.mean something entirely different for other commentators.The author is a native of Tamil Nadu and apologizes for inadvertent mistakes that might have crept in while trying to write in English.Word to word matching is also not to be found as far as Sanskrit and English are concerned.This is my attempt to express what i think i know.When we say"I have bathed in the Ganga",it doesn't mean that we have swam from this side of the river to the other.In the same way,i think I've done my best.
May peace prevail.